A few days ago, Mark Levin had an interesting post on The Corner about Davod Brooks’ recent column on conservatism in America. Brooks writes:
And he continues:
For years, American and British politics were in sync. Reagan came in roughly the same time as Thatcher, and Clinton’s Third Way approach mirrored Blair’s. But the British conservatives never had a Gingrich revolution in the 1990s or the Bush victories thereafter. They got their losing in early, and, in the wilderness, they rethought modern conservatism while their American counterparts were clinging to power.
Today, British conservatives are on the way up, while American conservatives are on the way down. British conservatives have moved beyond Thatcherism, while American conservatives pine for another Reagan. The British Conservative Party enjoyed a series of stunning victories in local elections last week, while polls show American voters thoroughly rejecting the Republican brand.
The flow of ideas has changed direction. It used to be that American conservatives shaped British political thinking. Now the influence is going the other way.
The British conservative renovation begins with this insight: The central political debate of the 20th century was over the role of government. The right stood for individual freedom while the left stood for extending the role of the state. But the central debate of the 21st century is over quality of life. In this new debate, it is necessary but insufficient to talk about individual freedom. Political leaders have to also talk about, as one Tory politician put it, “the whole way we live our lives.”
Levin does not have much taste for the idea that America’s conservatives should follow a somewhat squishy Tory Conservatism.
Conservatives are a much more sophisticated lot than Brooks gives them credit for. Conservatism isn’t only about individualism, although it is rightly a critical element of ordered liberty. But it isn’t about "creating 4,200 more health visitors," either. Brooks wants conservatives to mimic the ways of the Tory, the latter having made significant recent gains in British local elections. In other words, he looks to Europe much the same way the American Left does, although he may no doubt argue he looks there for a different direction than socialism.
Two comments. What, exactly, does Brooks think is original with the Tories? How exactly does it differ from President Bush’s "Compassionate Conservatism"? Perhaps, with its occasional efforts to put individual choice into big government (health savings accounts, etc.), Compassionate conservatism adds a bit of Gingrich’s idea of moving "from a welfare state to an opportunity society" into the mix, but barely. (It is also important to note that, given the difference between political systems, Mrs. Thatcher had the legislature on her side in a way that President Reagan never did.)
Levin asks, "Does David Brooks understand conservatism? Has he read anything written by Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, and scores of others whose thinking and writings have made the case for the civilized society?"
I find that comment amusing, given that Levin complains that Brooks "looks to Europe." Perhaps he would be on more solid ground if he had pointed to Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Adams, and the other founders to make his point.
P.S. Might one say that President Bush has invented John D. Rockefeller Republicanism: Evangelical Christianity, plus Big Government.